Monday, 18 July 2011

Shall We Join The Ladies?

   Fictional female detectives in the nineteenth and early twentieth century had to have a very pressing reason for entering what was mainly a male preserve. Loveday Brooke, for example, was desperately poor. And as late as 1898 Dorcas Deane ("A real sob-sister was Dorcas") worked to support an artist husband who had gone blind. Even so, some women still  didn't escape becoming social outcasts, which is probably why the gloriously named Miss van Snoop made only one appearance. Florence Cusack, however, was an exception. Young, beautiful and wealthy, she travelled from country to country  trying  to clear her dead husband's name in a series of stories and (most unusually) "ended up in the arms of her narrator."
   Madelyn Mack, "the delightful, golden-haired and beautiful college girl" invented by the American writer  Hugh C. Weir, had to earn her own living and decided to copy Sherlock Holmes, referring to her "dissecting-room experiences" and using expressions which do credit to him as a model. She was also fond of staging dramatic denouments. But her admiration for the man wasn't exactly unqualified. In fact, she became somewhat dismissive of him. There were, said Miss Mack, only two rules in detection: hard work and common sense. "Not uncommon sense, like our friend Sherlock Holmes." However, like Sherlock, Miss Mack had "a grip of steel" and was not averse to drug-taking. Only she went in for coca berries as a stimulant rather than cocaine. She also had her 'Watson'. Miss Noraker ('Nora') was on hand to ask questions, and to say things like "I'm afraid I don't quite follow you. There is nothing at all out of the ordinary that I can catch." And, like John H. Watson, she doesn't  always know where Madelyn is  or what she's  up to. Nevertheless, Nora  too is prepared to go anywhere with little or no notice and at any time of the day or night. Her reference to "the tyrant of our city editor's desk" implies that she also wrote up Madelyn's investigations in the best Watsonian manner. Unlike the little helper of "Lady Molly of Scotland Yard." Mary appears to be a servant of some sort and has the very irritating habit of  referring to her employer as "my dear lady" at the end of every sentence. She sounds even more admiring than the Watson. But the road was being well-paved for today's feisty forensic females.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Let's Hear it For Bohemia!

"The rough-and-tumble of Afghanistan, coming on the top of a natural Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a medical man"- Watson in 'The Musgrave  Ritual.'

"It was not a collection of residential flats, but rather the abode of Bohemian bachelors" - Watson in 'The Three Garridebs.'

As Holmes went out to pursue the elusive Mrs. Sawyer, Watson passed the time "skipping over the pages of Henri Murger's Vie de Boheme." A Study in Scarlet.

Murger's sketches of the true bohemian life, which he had lived himself, enjoyed enormous success as a series of newspaper articles. These later came out in book form, as a play and finally, half a century later, an opera by Puccini. Talented young artists, writers and sculptors with no money hung out in a derelict farm- house near the Barriere d'Enfer (one of the gates of Paris) coming regularly into the City hoping to earn the price of a cup of coffee at the Cafe Momus. Murger later became respectable, deserting the Momus for the Cafe Riche but continuing to write novels which painted the really bohemian existence in the grimest of colours. It led, he said, to The Academy, the hospital or the morgue. There was nothing for it but extremely hard work, and young men without talent who simply wanted to sample the life did so knowing they could return home after a short, romantic and not too painfully poor stay in a garret, drinking in noisy taverns with genuine artists and sleeping with little grisettes.As soon as the game palled they could go home, as Murger put it, "to marry their cousins and set up as solicitors in a town of thirty thousand souls where, sitting by the fire in the evening, they boasted of their poverty-stricken artist days with all the exaggeration of travellers describing a tiger-hunt."